Friday, February 23, 2018

Remembering “Coco”: It’s a Scary World, After All?

Little kids, I’ve discovered, like things that are scary . . . as long as they’re not TOO scary. But they’re not crazy about sitting quietly in the dark of a movie theatre for a long period of time. And they value entertainment that’s simple and straightforward. They understand about good guys and bad guys, but shades of grey are pretty much beyond them. These are some lessons I learned when I took two young family members (ages 6 and 3) on their first big movie outing, to see Pixar’s Coco.

Personally, I loved this film, the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar for best animated feature. It’s beautiful to look at, and does a splendid job of mirroring Mexican culture in a way that’s both respectful and fun. From the opening credits, spelled out in brightly-colored papel picado (paper-cut) banners, to the incorporation of Mexican Dia de los Muertos traditions, Coco is a visual treat. The music is terrific too, and the film’s message about family solidarity and respect for one’s past certainly resonates.

That being said, Norteamericano children six and under can be forgiven for not appreciating the charms of Coco. After all, it’s almost two hours long, which makes for a lengthy sit. And it’s complicated: not every kid can quickly grasp why the plucky young hero has to journey to the realm of the dead and (worse yet!) risk not being able to return. And Coco is—let’s face it—a wee bit scary. Hundreds of animated skeletons appear among the cast of character. Even though most of them are quite fanciful and lovable, their presence poses questions about the meaning of death that I suspect make most American kids uneasy. (Mexican culture is traditionally good at acknowledging death in ways both loving and humorous, so I’d enjoy  hearing how a six-year-old steeped in that heritage would feel about the movie.)

 Anyway, the two youngsters I took to see Coco have now survived their very first trip to Disneyland. The three-year-old, a girl who loves puppies and unicorns, enjoyed her dizzy ride in those whirling Alice in Wonderland teacups (every adult’s least-favorite Disney attraction), but later proclaimed that what she liked best was prancing on a white wooden horse on the King Arthur Carousel. Her big brother, newly six, was definitely in the market for scares. He survived the Haunted Mansion, then graduated to the thrills of Star Tours, the Indiana Jones ride, a Matterhorn bobsled, and the bone-rattling Wild West rollercoaster called Big Thunder Railroad. Each of these he found scary, but not too scary to be fun. I’m certain he’d go back at a moment’s notice.

Why was he put off by Coco, even though he couldn’t get enough of these thrill-rides? Well, first of all, the rides are short, so there’s precious little time to get anxious or confused. And though they may be full of physical jolts, you can’t call them mentally taxing.  True, they simulate danger, but rescue always comes very quickly. Though he wouldn’t want to see Coco again, this six-year-old can be mesmerized by early Disney cartoon shorts, like one where an obvious bad guy (Pistol Pete?) is foiled by spunky hero Mickey Mouse, who deftly removes consecutive rungs of a ladder Pete is climbing. In comic shorts like this, everyone gets a bit battered, but the humor is so broad that we know there’s no harm done, and that everyone is going to live forever without anything much changing. In Coco, lives change forever—and that’s a lot to grasp when you’re sitting in the dark.

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